|Benjamin Patterson, attaching|
my thought headband
Some years ago, the scholar Fred Moten gave a brilliant talk at Northwestern University on Fluxus pioneer and music innovator Benjamin Patterson (b. 1934-). Fred's descriptions of Patterson's work deeply intrigued me, and so when some of his compositions and other creations appeared at the Studio Museum in Harlem not long after that, I hightailed it up the island to see them. But viewing a conceptual and performance artist's works in a museum, enriching and inspiring though this may be, does not compare with witnessing the work being performed live, especially by the artist herself or himself, nor, better yet, with being an active participant oneself.
|The High Line announcement|
of the afternoon's events
Originally I had also planned to see Jamal Cyrus's Texas Fried Tenor, a piece he developed in 2012 in which he fries a tenor saxophone, with a poem, and mixed and live instrumental soundtrack as part of the experience, but my lunch companion and I were running a little behind, so I figured I'd missed it. My friend also thought it sounded like avant-garde hijinks taken a bit too far, but the idea of frying not just anything, but everything, especially a saxophone, struck me as a particularly apt gesture for our contemporary culture, as well as a fitting tribute to Texas, African American, jazz, and black Texas musical culture. Rather than installing it in a museum, why not drop it all in burning oil? And, perhaps with a bit of Beuys behind the ears, there was no way anyone could directly consume it, except ephemerally, in the moment, or in documented form. No hardened arteries from this indelible inedible.
Yet when we reached the High Line at 14th Street, we could smell something burning, and lo, a crowd was gathered around a column of smoke, amplified crackling sounds were audible, and I spotted a brother dressed in all white that I figured must be Cyrus. It was he, and while we missed his recitation of a poem based on the tenor sax tradition, we did see his event's denouement, with incense, a bell, and a very different mode of saxophony than I'd ever witnessed before. That scorched instrument, lying in a metal trough, was playing itself something ferocious. Texas fried saxophone, in New York, indeed. The clips at the bottom of this page below the jump should give a sense of what it all looked and sounded like.
|Jamal Cyrus, at his mixing board|
|Jamal Cyrus placing the fried saxophone|
in an amped trough
|Cyrus, mixing away|
|Benjamin Patterson, before his event|
He read the ideas we contributed, but diced them up into thin strips, which he may or may not have reused at some point. I wondered about that, though I was delighted to be able to think on the spot and let him know some of what was in my mind at the time. We kept up a sotto voce patter the whole time, and when I had received my headband and was walking away, several people stopped me to inquire what we were talking about. One person may even have jotted down my name and what I said; I should have asked where that was going, but perhaps onto another blog like this one.
I wore my headband for a little while, and the feeling of delight--and new thoughts--didn't wear off even after I'd taken it off, nor did the realization that I had an opportunity not just to meet one of the most original and still living figures in the Fluxus movement, but that I'd been fortunate enough to participate in one of his performances. For a free afternoon, that was invaluable. There's still two more weeks worth of Performa 13 performances, so catch them if you can!
|My payment for the thoughts|
|Patterson making the headband|
|The two of us, chatting as he|
makes one for the first participant
|Receiving my thought headband|
|The next vendor of|